With the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling, we witness another decision in favor of inequality. While there were many erroneous conceptualizations running the majority decision, of principal importance is their understanding of money. For the conservatives on the court, it seems money is just a thing which carries no intrinsic weight, it may be gifted for nothing in return because it is just some object that a possessor may use as they see fit. But as the political theorist G.A. Cohen argued, money is no object; money is freedom in a capitalist society. The conservatives of the Supreme Court face a philosophical dilemma. Either money is not freedom, and in which case restrictions on political contributions are trivial, such that other factors tip the scales towards not overturning those restrictions, or money is freedom, but in which case those spending restrictions should stay in place, for reasons I shall soon make clear. Either way, such restrictions are warranted.
If money is freedom then restrictions on political spending are restrictions on freedom. As such, it seems obvious that this is the line of argument the conservative justices will want to take, but as we shall see, this conceptualization does not support their conclusions. If money is freedom, then poverty is a lack of freedom. As a society we have decided that poverty is acceptable (apparently!), such that we have decided that it is acceptable for persons to lack freedom. The question then is whether we find it acceptable for there to be restrictions in freedom, in the way of having rules for what wealthy and free persons may do with their money – their freedom.
We accept that people are poor and thus lack freedom if those persons are responsible for their poverty and lack of freedom – we tend to think it unfair if someone is made to suffer from bad luck if they made fiscally responsible choices throughout their life. If the wealthy are able to use their freedom to influence politicians to support legislation that benefits the wealthy, such as through tax cuts, then the wealthy will have a louder voice in policy discussion than the poor, and tax cuts will be balanced by cuts in welfare and assistance programs. Cutting funds for these programs has the result of making poor persons even more poor, which is to say, to take away even more freedoms from the poor. Here the poor are made less free by the actions of others, but as we only have reason to accept as just poverty that is caused by the poor person, we have no reason to accept this further lessening of freedom. As this lessening of freedom is caused by the unrestricted freedom of the wealthy and free, we have good reason to restrict the freedom of the wealthy in order to prevent the poor from being even less free.
I have tried to answer the conservative justices on their own terms by arguing that if money is freedom then there ought to be restrictions on political contributions. If money is not freedom then restrictions on political contributions by the wealthy are harmless, and other reasons for such restrictions overwhelm this aspect. Either way, we are lead to the conclusion that there should be restrictions on political contributions. I do think that money is freedom, such that I think it is more just for there to be restrictions on freedom for the wealthy, rather than the theft of more freedom from the poor.